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1.55% proposed budget increase: Weston schools are lowest in DRG

Weston Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer said she kept her eye on fiscal responsibility and maintaining education excellence while putting together the proposed school budget for 2013-14.

Her recommended budget request of $46.29 million was approved by the Board of Education last week and represents a 1.55% hike over the current fiscal year.

The proposal will be further reviewed by the selectmen and finance board before it is sent to the Annual Town Budget Meeting (ATBM) and a referendum vote in April.

Weston School Board Chairman Phil Schaefer said he was very pleased with the 1.55% budget increase. “It continues the excellent work of the superintendent and administration, who are maintaining a high quality school system during difficult economic times, while being mindful of the costs, expenditures and the money spent,” he said.

According to data provided by the Weston school district, Weston has the lowest proposed percentage increase for the 2013-14 fiscal year, compared to other schools in DRG-A. (District Reference Group A, which includes Darien, Easton, New Canaan, Redding, Region 9 [Joel Barlow High School], Ridgefield, Weston, Westport and Wilton).

After Weston’s 1.55% proposed hike, the next lowest is Redding (elementary and middle school only) at 1.75%; Easton (elementary and middle school only) at 2.29%; Ridgefield, 3.24%; Darien, 4.07%; New Canaan, 4.30%; Wilton, 4.40%; and Westport, 4.69%.

Region 9/Joel Barlow High School (which serves Redding and Easton) has not yet put forward a budget proposal.

“1.55% is lower than anyone else in the DRG, and represents good value for the money,” said Weston school board member Nina Daniel.

A relatively quiet budget season so far, Dr. Palmer said the feedback she’s received from the public about the budget has been “positive and supportive.”

Compounded increase

Dr. Palmer said Weston also has the lowest compounded percentage increase in the DRG for the past four years.

According to the school district’s data, for the fiscal years 2010 – 2013, Weston’s compounded increase was 3.66%. Next was Easton at 4.07%; Westport, 6.59%; Ridgefield, 6.93%; Wilton, 7.87%; Region 9, 8.38%; New Canaan, 8.81%; Redding, 8.97%; and Darien, 20.49%.

“Weston’s cumulative increase was less than half of most towns in the DRG, our budget is well-managed,” Ms. Daniel said.

Dr. Palmer said the district prioritized its needs for the 2013-14 budget and had to make some tough choices. “We are continuing initiatives that were begun, and we can continue to move forward with this budget,” she said.

To keep the budget to a less than 2.0% increase, Dr. Palmer said several items that were initially considered were eventually not included in the budget request, including:

• $200,000 in special facilities projects.

• An additional 1.4 full time equivalent paraprofessional support person.

• $70,000 for equipment.

• $200,000 for technology hardware/software.

• Additional support to implement the district’s strategic plan.

• Two assistant coaching positions.

• $200,000 in individual line requests.

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